South Korea pulls off twin kill over Gilas
It could have been an added morale boost for the country’s current Southeast Asian Games campaign in Kuala Lumpur had Gilas Pilipinas sustained its surprisingly strong start in the Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon.
But the dream takeoff ignited by a masterful beating of defending champion China then convincing wins over Iraq and Qatar ended in a nightmare as South Korea flashed its mightiest form and knocked out Gilas in the quarterfinals with one of its most lopsided win over a country that considers basketball as its national sport.
Fast, deadly and unforgiving on both ends, the Koreans broke the game wide open in the third quarter and won, 118-86, on Wednesday. They could have finished with an even larger margin if not for the 22-point explosion of Terrence Romeo in the second quarter, but the final result certainly was a big improvement of Korea’s 83-72 victory over another Gilas squad in the Jones Cup in Taipei last month.
While the Gilas squad this time was a lot stronger than the Jones Cup team of PBA rookies and Gilas cadets, the Filipinos didn’t have the luxury of a longer preparation for such a high-caliber competition and the super strong lineup starring naturalized player Andray Blatche that overwhelmed the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (Seaba) field in the qualifier for the Fiba Asia Cup.
The 6-foot-11 Blatche, who powered Gilas to second in 2015 behind China, begged off this time citing safety concerns in Lebanon. And the 6-10 center June Mar Fajardo suffered a right foot injury a week before the team left for Beirut and didn’t play, although sparingly, until the game against Korea.
Although Fajardo logged more minutes when Gilas played host Lebanon in the classification round Friday, the PBA’s three-time Most Valuable Player was not in game shape and was hardly a factor. With the veteran Fadi El Khatib firing 36 points, the Lebanese won, 106-87, to send the Filipinos into a duel for seventh place with Jordan in a game going on at press time Sunday.
Lebanon was set to meet China for fifth place also Sunday before the last two matches of the tournament pitting Australia and Iran for the championship and New Zealand against Korea for third. In the semifinals, the Aussies blasted the NZ five, 106-79, and Iran downed Korea, 87-81.
Chris Standhardinger, the 6-8 Fil-German who was the steadiest among the three Gilas centers, missed the Lebanon game as he flew to Kuala Lumpur to join another Gilas squad scheduled to open defense of its Southeast Games title also late Sunday.
If it’s any consolation, the Fiba Asia event is not the main priority for Gilas but the Asia-Oceania qualifier this November leading to the 2019 World Cup in China.
Gilas has been bracketed with Australia, Japan and Chinese Taipei in Group B with the teams playing in a two-game home-and-away series to determine the top three teams that will advance to the second round.
Gilas will visit Japan for its first game on Nov. 24, plays host to Chinese-Taipei on Nov. 27, then goes to Australia for its third game on Feb. 22. The Filipinos then play host to Japan on Feb. 25 and to Australia on July 2 while visiting Chinese-Taipei on June 29.
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